Returning to Sepicciano, where the church bells ring out the quarter hour and the parish church is truly the heart of the village; where the presence of the Mother of God, of the angels and of the saints, is inextricably bound up with every moment of daily life; where to be a human person is to be un cristiano; where people enjoy a simple familiarity in the house of God without any loss of the awe that the Thrice-Holy Presence of the Divine Majesty inspires — all of these things convince me that while the Catholic faith generates culture and gives shape to all of life, that same Catholic culture is indispensable to a community’s spiritual health and growth in the Faith. Here, even those who do not regularly practice the Faith are steeped in it and would never think of denying it.
So much of life happens out of doors here. Boys kick a ball around the little piaza in front of the church. Old ladies sit on their bench nearby, exchanging news and greeting passers-by. The parish priest drives by — fully vested — on his way to do Paschal house blessings, accompanied by a server! Just inside the vestibule of the church is a plan for the elaboration of a new community garden over which a recently commissioned statue of Saint Padre Pio will preside. In the evening nearly everyone in the village is outside walking (la passeggiata), talking, living the “community” that American Catholics find so elusive and yet so fascinating. This is a culture that Protestantism could never have produced.
This is also, I fear, something that Suburban American Catholicism with its parking lots and programs can never achieve. Formerly, when there were still urban neighbourhoods held together by a parish church, particularly if the the parish church had an ethnic identity, there remained something of a Catholic culture.
I can only envision the Church of tomorrow in terms of communities that will have embraced a truly Catholic culture in all its dimensions. Quite possibly this will mean the relocation of families around a monastery or the conscious rebuilding of neighbourhoods around a parish church.
On Thursday, 26 May, the Holy Father prayed the Holy Rosary with the bishops of Italy gathered in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, and addressed them:
Where Spirituality and Art Come Together
Venerable and dear brothers,
You have come to this splendid basilica — a place where spirituality and art come together in a centuries-old union — to share an intense moment of prayer, by which we entrust to the maternal protection of Mary, Mater Unitatis, the whole Italian nation, 150 years after the political union of the country. It is significant that this initiative was prepared by similar meetings in the dioceses: also in this way you express the solicitude of the Church in making herself close to the destiny of this beloved nation.
Dedicating May to Marian Devotion
We, in turn, feel in communion with every community, including the smallest, in which the tradition of dedicating May to Marian devotion is alive. This tradition is expressed in many signs: shrines, chapels, works of art and, above all, in the prayer of the holy rosary, with which the People of God give thanks for the good they receive incessantly from the Lord, through the intercession of Mary Most Holy, and pray to her for their many needs.
Leaving Space for God
Prayer — which has its summit in the liturgy, whose form is guarded by the living tradition of the Church — is always leaving space for God: his action makes us participants in the history of salvation. This afternoon, in particular, in the school of Mary we have been invited to share in Jesus’ steps: to go down with him to the Jordan River, so that the Spirit will confirm in us the grace of baptism; to sit at the banquet of Cana, to receive from him the “good wine” of the celebration; to enter the synagogue of Nazareth, as poor ones to whom is addressed the joyful message of the Kingdom of God; also to go up Mount Tabor, to receive the cross in the paschal light; and finally, to participate in the Cenacle in the new and eternal sacrifice that, anticipating the new heavens and the new earth, regenerates the whole of creation.
Christ: Man’s Most Profound Truth
This basilica is the first dedicated to the Virgin Mother of God in the West. On entering it, my thoughts went back to the first day of the year 2000, when Blessed John Paul II opened the Holy Door, entrusting the Jubilee Year to Mary, so that she would watch over the path of all those who acknowledged themselves pilgrims of grace and mercy. We ourselves today do not hesitate to feel like pilgrims, desirous of crossing the threshold of that Most Holy Door that is Christ, and we want to ask the Virgin Mary to support our path and to intercede for us. As he is Son of God, Christ is the form of man: He is man’s most profound truth, the sap that gives life to a history that otherwise would be irremediably impaired.
The Dispositions of Mary’s Heart
Prayer helps us to recognize in him the center of our life, to remain in his presence, to conform our will to his, to do “what he tells us” (John 2:5), certain of his fidelity. This is the essential task of the Church, crowned by him as Mystical Bride, as we contemplate her in the splendor of the apse. Mary constitutes her model: she is the one who presents to us the mirror in which we are invited to recognize our identity. Her life is a call to turn from what we are to hear and accept the Word, being able in faith to proclaim the greatness of the Lord, before which our only possible greatness is that expressed in filial obedience: “Be it done unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38). Mary trusted: she is the “blessed one” (cf. Luke 1:42), who is blessed for having believed (cf. Luke 1:45), to the point of having been clothed in Christ to such a degree that she enters in the “seventh day,” a participant in God’s rest. The dispositions of her heart — listening, acceptance, humility, fidelity, praise and waiting — correspond to the interior attitudes and to the gestures that mold Christian life. The Church is nourished by them, conscious that they express what God expects from her.
The Council of Ephesus: the Theotokos
Engraved on the bronze of this basilica’s Holy Door is a representation of the Council of Ephesus. The building itself, whose original nucleus dates back to the 5th century, is linked to that ecumenical summit held in the year 431. In Ephesus the united Church defended and confirmed for Mary the title Theotokos, Mother of God: a title with Christological content, which refers to the mystery of the Incarnation and which expresses the unity of the human nature with the divine in the Son. Moreover, it is the person and the experience of Jesus of Nazareth that illumines the Old Testament and Mary’s face itself. Understood clearly in her is the unitary design that intertwines the two Testaments. In her personal life is the synthesis of the history of a whole nation, which places the Church in continuity with ancient Israel. Within this perspective individual histories receive meaning, beginning with those of the great women of the Old Covenant, in whose life is represented a humiliated, defeated and deported people. However, they are also the same ones who personify hope; they are the “holy remnant,” a sign that God’s plan does not remain an abstract idea, but finds correspondence in a pure answer, in a liberty that gives itself without holding anything back, in a yes that is full acceptance and perfect gift. Mary is the highest expression of it. Upon her, Virgin, descends the creative power of the Holy Spirit, the same who “in the beginning” hovered over the shapeless abyss (cf. Genesis 1:1) and thanks to which God called being from nothing; the Spirit gives life to and molds creation. Opening to his action, Mary engenders the Son, the presence of God who comes to inhabit history and opens it to a new and definitive beginning, which is the possibility for every man to be reborn from on high, to live in the will of God and thus to be completely fulfilled.
The Word of the Gospel: Source of Civilization
Faith, in fact, is not alienation: the experiences that contaminate man’s dignity and the quality of social coexistence [are not the experiences of faith]! In every historical period the encounter with the ever new Word of the Gospel was a source of civilization; it built bridges between peoples and enriched the fabric of our cities, expressing itself in culture, in the arts and, not last, in the thousand forms of charity. No wonder Italy, celebrating the 150 years of its political unity, can be proud of the presence and action of the Church. She does not pursue privileges or desire to substitute the responsibilities of the political institutions; respectful of the legitimate secularity of the state, she is attentive in supporting the fundamental rights of man. Among these are first of all the ethical demands and, therefore, openness to transcendence, which are values that precede any state jurisdiction, inasmuch as they are inscribed in the very nature of the human person. In this perspective, the Church — strong because of collegial reflection and because of direct experience on the spot — continues offering her own contribution to the building of the common good, reminding each one of his duty to promote and protect human life in all its phases and to support the family with deeds; the family continues to be, in fact, the first reality in which free and responsible persons can grow, formed in those profound values that open to fraternity and which also enable one to address the adversities of life. Not in the last place, there is today difficulty in accessing full and fitting employment; hence, I join all those who appeal to politics and to the business world to make every effort to surmount the widespread precariousness of labor, which in young people compromises the serenity of a plan for family life, with grave harm to an authentic and harmonious development of society.
The Qualities of the South: Welcome and Hospitality
Dear brothers, the anniversary of the founding event of the unitary state has found you diligent in recalling fragments of a shared memory, and sensible in pointing out the elements of a future perspective. Do not hesitate to stimulate the lay faithful to overcome every spirit of narrow-mindedness, distraction and indifference, and to participate personally in public life. Encourage initiatives of formation inspired in the social doctrine of the Church, so that whoever is called to political and administrative responsibilities is not a victim of the temptation to exploit his position for personal interests or because of thirst for power. Support the vast network of aggregations and associations that promote endeavors of a cultural, social and charitable character. Renew the occasions of encounter, in the sign of reciprocity, between North and South. Help the North to recover the original motivations of that vast cooperative movement of Christian inspiration which animated a culture of solidarity and economic development. Likewise, invite the South to put in circulation for the benefit of all the resources and qualities it possesses and those features of reception and hospitality that characterize it. Continue cultivating a spirit of sincere and loyal cooperation with the state, knowing that this relationship is beneficial both for the Church as well as for the whole country. May your words and action be encouragement and thrust for all those called to manage the complexity that characterizes the present time. It is a time when an appeal arises ever more strongly for solid spiritual references; be able to articulate to all what is peculiar to the Christian experience: God’s victory over evil and death, as a horizon that casts a light of hope on the present. Assuming education as the theme of the pastoral commitment of this decade, you wished to express the certainty that Christian existence — the good life of the Gospel — is precisely the demonstration of a fulfilled life. On this path you ensure not only a religious and ecclesial but also a social service, contributing to build the city of man. Therefore, courage! Despite all the difficulties, “nothing is impossible for God” (Luke 1:37), for him who continues doing “great things” (Luke 1:49) through all those who, like Mary, are able to give themselves to him with unconditional availability.
Maria, Mater Unitatis
We place the whole Italian nation under the protection of the Mater Unitatis, so that the Lord will grant it the inestimable gifts of peace and fraternity and, hence, of development in solidarity. May she also help the political forces to live the anniversary of unity as an occasion to reinforce the national bond and to surmount every harmful opposition: may the various and legitimate sensibilities, experiences and perspectives come together again in a wider picture to seek together what truly contributes to the good of the country. May Mary’s example open the way to a more just, mature and responsible society, capable of rediscovering the profound values of the human heart. May the Mother of God encourage young people, sustain families, comfort the sick, implore upon each one a renewed effusion of the Spirit, helping us to recognize and also to follow the Lord in this time, who is the true good of life, because he is Life itself.
From my heart I bless you and your communities.